Northern Wilds Magazine
Sturgeon, known as bottom feeders, glide serenely through the interactive touch pool’s depths. | NAOMI YAEGER
Along the Shore

Unveiling wonders at Great Lakes Aquarium

Those looking to get out of the house this winter, yet finding the great outdoors less than great, might consider a visit to the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth. With over 65,000 square feet of space, the Great Lakes Aquarium (GLA), which is open year-round, is a great option for people of all ages.

“It’s always 75 and sunny in our building,” Executive Director Jay Walker said. “We have a lot of different experiences that are fun for families—a lot of hands-on exhibits.” The highlight is a water table, a model of the five Great Lakes. Visitors can move toy boats through the locks and see how the Great Lakes are connected.

During a brief visit in the last days of December, a pair of 2-year-old twins stood at the water table, joyfully dipping their hands in an atmosphere of play and discovery. Their parents, Rachel and Justin Store, were delighted to discover their home, Houghton, Mich., displayed on the table.

Visitors of all ages strolled by, interacting with the exhibits and their families. Grandparents supported toddlers, guiding them in their first steps. Meanwhile, some adults ambled independently, engrossed in studying exhibits, and parents leisurely pushed their children in buggies.

Courtney and Jeff Tanski from Danbury, Wisc., stood by a large tank looking upward at the fish. Courtney said a frogfish was the most exciting critter she saw at the aquarium. Jeff said the most interesting was the little alligators.

The executive director’s favorite exhibit in the GLA is the Isle Royale exhibit, which holds 45,000 gallons of water. Containing a good portion of the fish found in Lake Superior, including American eels and lake sturgeon, it is two stories high and can be observed on the first or second floor. Walker and other staff scuba dive into the two-story tank to hand feed the sturgeon, which are bottom feeders. Otherwise, the trout at the top of the tanks will eat most of the food.

Courtney and Jeff Tanksi of Danbury, Wisc., admire the 45,000-gallon Isle Royale tank. | NAOMI YAEGER

“They kinda puppy-dog you,” Walker said of the giant lake sturgeon looking at him, anticipating their food. “It’s a lot of fun.” During the Christmas season, Scuba Santa feeds the fish. During any season, visitors enjoy watching the scuba divers cleaning the tank.

Interactive Exhibits for All Ages

GLA boasts many hands-on exhibits, ensuring an engaging experience for visitors of all ages. Besides the Great Lakes water table, other touch pools offer a chance to interact with marine life. One features touchable saltwater animals, representing the time when the region was submerged. Another showcases moon jellyfish, providing a safe hands-on encounter. The third, a sturgeon touch pool, offers fun and learning about these incredible freshwater bony-backed giants with spade snouts—and a chance to touch one.

A collaboration between Chippewa and Superior Forests, the freshwater forest exhibit educates visitors about how trees use fresh water, providing insights into the work of the forest service. This exhibit serves as a reminder of the importance of conservation and understanding our natural surroundings.

GLA features exhibits showcasing local and global habitats, from skunks and possums to creatures from the Amazon and African rainforests. A new gallery focusing on global habitats is set to open in the spring, highlighting the impact of climate change on ecosystems.

GLA’s mission is to engage and inspire, as evidenced by its record-setting attendance of over 200,000 visitors each year for the past two years. Future exhibits include “Oceans Alive,” focusing on different ecosystems, sea dragons, and a giant Pacific octopus. Oceans Alive will tell a story about how our actions to mitigate climate change are essential for Pacific Ocean creatures’ survival and our own.

GLA is also home to the Merrill Lynch Art Gallery on the first floor. This rotating gallery showcases local and regional artists whose work captures the spirit of the Lake Superior region.

Take the chance to explore this aquatic wonderland on the shores of the Great Lakes. The aquarium is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults and $16 for children 3-17. Children under 2 are free. An adult must accompany children under 12. For more information, call (218) 740-3474 or visit:

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